Watchdog groups want politics out of drawing Pennsylvania’s legislative map

    As state lawmakers in Pennsylvania prepare to draw new legislative districts this year, government reform advocates are calling for a more transparent process.

    A special committee of four lawmakers and one outsider will be chosen by May, and it will have until October to develop a draft plan for new state House and Senate districts.

    But advocates from the League of Women Voters and other watchdog groups want a nonpartisan panel to draw districts in the future.

    At a Capitol press conference, Barry Kauffman of Common Cause PA pointed out other states are taking this approach. “In California they have a new system, which is going to be very interesting to watch, where regular citizens can apply to be in the commission,” he said. ” I think there’s 14 members. There’s five Democrats, there’s five Republicans, and four have to be from other parties, or independents.”

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    Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi argued it’s impossible to completely remove political considerations from the process, no matter who sits on the panel.

    “Someone’s going to appoint this independent commission or any commission. I don’t think it’s possible, as long as human beings are drawing these lines, to separate political considerations from the redistricting process,” he said.

    More than anything else, the advocates want an open and transparent process.

    Olivia Thorne, the president of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, listed her demands. “Notices of commission and committee meetings, public hearings, transcripts of testimony presented at public meetings and any written testimony would be posted on the internet, and otherwise would be available to the public within 48 hours of being received,” she said.

    Pileggi countered lawmakers plan to do just that, by launching a website offering demographic information for every district. He said the site “[will provide] an opportunity for individuals to comment and make proposals to the commission. We’ll be using that technology. We’ll also — we’ll have several hearings around the state to allow citizens to express their opinions on legislative districts.”

    Congressional districts will be re-drawn this year, too, but that happens through the regular legislative process.

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